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Pacific FC Set to Begin Defence of CPL Title Against Forge FC

Pacific FC Set to Begin Defence of CPL Title Against Forge FC

It takes time to accrue a history. Entering its fourth season, the Canadian Premier League now has one, complete with heroes, villains and rivalries.

Not to mention the additional boost in soccer interest across the country because of Canada’s qualification for the 2022 World Cup.

“What’s better than being in this new era of Canadian soccer and having the two best teams [over the first three seasons of the CPL] playing each other to kick off the season?” said six-time Canada-capped attacking-midfielder Marco Bustos of Pacific FC.

With the heightened emotion of two former PFC stars, three-season Tridents Terran Campbell and Alessandro Hojabrpour, now with rival Forge FC of Hamilton, Ont., and returning to their former Starlight Stadium stomping ground to meet their old teammates this afternoon at 4 p.m. in the marquee game of the CPL opening weekend.

It was Hojabrpour who scored the goal that gave PFC the 1-0 victory over Forge FC last year in the 2021 CPL championship game at Tim Hortons Field to dethrone the two-time defending champions.

Moving up to Major League Soccer, as PFC players Lukas MacNaughton and Kadin Chung did during the off-season is seen as a logical progression. But the lateral move by Campbell and Hojabrpour to Forge FC — PFC’s biggest CPL rival — was viewed as something quite different.

“We will do our best to prove them wrong,” said steady returning Tridents defender Jordan Haynes. “We have filled the void well with new faces.”

Nothing personal. It’s just business.

“I shared a locker-room with [Campbell and Hojabrpour] here for two years, but now they are just opponents like any other opponents,” said Bustos.

That sentiment was echoed by Manny Aparicio, another Canada-capped returning PFC midfielder: “I don’t judge player movements. Everyone has their own career path. That’s football. We’re all used to it. There’s always six or seven players leaving and the same number of new guys coming in each year on any club. But our team attitude and style of ball control and being the protagonists doesn’t change.”

Tridents newcomers include six-foot-four Canada-capped centre-back Amer Didic, signed away from CPL rival FC Edmonton, former West Ham Academy and Cavalry CPL player Nathan Mavila, and touted teen prospect and Canada U-17 standout Kamron Habibullah, who made his MLS debut last year at age 17, and who is on loan to PFC this season from the Vancouver Whitecaps.

“Consistency is a big theme with us. The new players will lean on our core veteran group, which sets the standard,” said PFC head coach James ­Merriman.

“We are a family, we speak about that a lot around our team, and when you join us you are welcomed with open arms and treated as family.”

But a family everybody else wants to knock off.

“It comes with the ­territory and we embrace it as a ­challenge,” said Merriman.

Added Bustos: “We are champions for a reason and deserve it. But now we need to continue that. There are going to be ups and downs, but consistency has always been the key with this team and will continue to be.”

Returning Jamar Dixon is yet another Canada-capped player in the Tridents midfield.

“We know we have a target on our backs as the defending champions, and know it’s going to be a battle, but we understand what it takes to win,” said the PFC captain.

“We need to be back in that championship zone. We have built the proper foundation for that and have so much talent on this team from top to bottom and everyone is still hungry.”

Three-season PFC assistant coach Merriman takes over as head coach from Pa-Modou Kah, who departed following the CPL championship season to become head coach of the main farm team of FC Dallas of MLS. The understated Merriman doesn’t have Kah’s commanding presence, but nobody knows this organization like Merriman does, and his charges clearly have his back.

“[Merriman] believes in his players, he treats this as a family, and we want to play hard for him,” said Bustos.

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